Ephraimites or Ephra I am nots?

Cleveland Jewish News/October 17, 2005
By Stephanie Garber

Imagine the outrage if a practicing Jew were to don a Roman collar, assume the title “priest,” and open his own “Catholic church,” interpreting its holidays and symbols however he liked, says Rabbi Tovia Singer, talk-show host, and founder and national director of Outreach Judaism.

But that is exactly what “Hebraic Roots” adherents (also known as “Israelites” or “Ephraimites,” among other names) do. These groups are led by self-taught individuals who use the title “rabbi” and/or “congregational leader,” as well as “synagogue” (complete with Hebrew names like Beth HaKavod) for their churches.

These gentiles in Jewish clothing actually claim to be the “true Israelites” n direct, biological descendants of the lost tribe of Ephraim. Of course there are no DNA or blood tests to confirm this unsubstantiated claim.

Angus Wootten, one of the movement’s grandaddies, explains in his book Restoring Israel’s Kingdom how someone can find out if he or she is a biological member of the tribe of Ephraim: You simply “have a ‘conviction,’ a knowing that we know.”

While this David Koresh-sounding theology appears ridiculous to both Jews and the vast majority of Christians, the sobering fact is that their numbers are growing constantly. From their websites and links, it would appear there are about 30 Ephraim-style groups in Ohio alone, although it’s hard to get an exact count because they use so many names n Ephraimites, Hebraic Roots Christians, Lost Tribes, Northern Kingdom, Israelites, House of Israel, Messianic Christians, and House of Joseph.

Rabbi Melvin Granatstein of Green Road Synagogue says there are all kinds of ersatz groups like these. “Catholics have to follow certain scriptural interpretation, but Protestants can pick up a Bible and interpret on their own,” he explains. “Some (Protestants) are very respectable, but others just focus on the parts of scripture they like, and the Bible can have very diverse interpretations.”

Saying you’re from a lost tribe has a certain “romantic appeal,” continues Granatstein. “The neat thing about claiming to be part of a lost tribe is, if it’s lost, who’s going to be able to prove me wrong?”

While Hebraic Rooters claim to “unite Jews and Christians” as their ultimate goal, in reality, they seem to hold both groups in disdain. Jews seem to think they are “Cokes” (the real thing), says Wootten in his book Restoring. He questions Jewish ancestral lines “(that have) been affected by conversions, adoptions and extramarital sex (fornication, adultery or rape).” He seems to have particular disdain for the Orthodox, labeling them, among other things, as mean-spirited rock-throwers. Christians fare no better under Wootten’s scathing pen: They are guilty of “Esau’s folly” n throwing away their birthright as the “biological heirs of the tribe of Ephraim.”

Tired of being “second-class citizens,” these self-proclaimed “Ephraimites” demand that Jews “recognize” them as “Israelites” n and that would include rights to the Middle East real estate.

In 1948, “... instead of naming this Jewish state ‘Judah’ ... they named it Israel,” Wooten writes. “Now, in one fell swoop, the Jews grabbed the title back.” Wootten is appalled that these Jews had the chutzpah to name their country “Israel” n when those of his “tribe” knew it was partially theirs!

Eddie Chumney, who was a computer specialist before going full-time into “the ministry” almost a decade ago, heads a “synagogue” in Stark County; his members, he claims, come from Tuscarawas, Carrol, Stark, Wayne, Summit and Cuyahoga counties. Chumney also founded “Hebraic Roots International,” which claims a database network of subscribers in all 50 states and in 55 foreign countries. He travels extensively, both nationally and internationally, at the invitation of gentile groups who want to hear about their “lost (but now found!) heritage.”

Raised Protestant, Chumney says he was “awakened” to what the New Testament “really” teaches after studying Jewish texts and taking Torah classes from a Reform rabbi in Akron. Chumney accuses Jews of “blindness” for not acknowledging their “Northern Kingdom” relatives. He threatens that peace will only come to Israel when they do so. He also says that Christians are “drunkards like Ephraim,” who have been lied to over the millennia n mostly because of the Catholic Church n as to what Jesus really taught.

The gospel according to Chumney is that Jesus came to “unite the two kingdoms” (i.e., Jews and “Israelites”) and teach the “Israelites” (gentile Christians) to observe Jewish law. Of course, this is contrary to halachah (Jewish law), which actually says gentiles are forbidden to observe Shabbat, a doctrine which Chumney asserts is false and put forth by “the rabbis.” It’s a title he occasionally uses himself. (See sidebar, p. 29.)

While Chumney alludes to both Jewish texts and the New Testament scriptures, mixing doctrines and beliefs from both, he chafes at the accusation that he has made up his own religion. He simply wants “the house of Judah” to recognize “the house of Joseph” (his house) and for the latter to recognize Jesus’s “true” mission “foreshadowed in the Torah when those who received the law at Mt. Sinai were the only ones who escaped Egypt because they had put the blood on their doorposts.”

Chumney asserts that “obviously, there’s not going to be paper documentation” for the Ephraimite/Northern Kingdom/Lost Tribe/ House of Joseph connection. The only “proof,” it seems, is that one adheres to Chumney’s instruction.

The Chumney/Wootten type of teaching is mushrooming. Rick Ross, an internationally-recognized cult expert, and a former Clevelander, calls it “a growing phenomenon in the United States.”

Ross “runs into these groups all the time,” but says the “Hebraic Roots” movement is really just an old teaching with a facelift. He points out that the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert Armstrong in 1934, taught that Anglo-Saxons are direct descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and that church viewed that teaching as the key, unlocking a true understanding of biblical prophecy. At its peak, there were 65,000 Armstrongists, says Ross.

“These groups are very misleading and very disingenuous,” he cautions. “They have an affinity for Jewish holidays and symbols but have no Jewish background whatsoever,” says Ross. “It really becomes a shanda (shame), as my grandmother would say, when they start parading around with Torah scrolls and trotting out Jewish symbols.”

Actually, says Ross, there is a psychological component as to why certain types of people are attracted to these types of groups. “It gives them a sense of elite identity. In fact, there is a Yiddish phrase that sums it up perfectly: kol mamzer melech n Every bastard wants to be a king.”

Will the real rabbi please stand up?

“Anyone can invent his own religion,” says Tovia Singer, founder and director of Outreach Judaism. “But the reason these movements are dangerous is that they don’t respect boundaries. They are not Jewish at all, and (its leaders and adherents) have no rabbinic background whatsoever; they are simply playing with Jewish beliefs and rituals.”

Certainly one of the ways the Hebraic Rooters play with Judaism is with their cavalier use of the title “rabbi.” For example, in the advertisement for Eddie Chumney’s “2005 Midwest Feast of Tabernacles” event to be held in Ohio next month, three of the four speakers are listed as rabbis, although not one of them has any rabbinic training at all.

If, as the former computer specialist-turned-self-proclaimed-minister says, people will be coming from as far as Florida to attend the weeklong event, they will paying to attend something where the rabbis are not rabbis at all, and the Succot experience is certainly not going to be a very “Jewish” one.

If someone were to call him or herself an attorney or physician and attempt to practice as such, that individual would be thrown in jail, says Rabbi Singer. Using the title “rabbi” won’t get someone thrown in jail, but it is consumer fraud, he adds.

“The parameters of Jewish identity exclusively and historically lay within the Jewish community,” says cult expert Rick Ross. “Unless you recognize the parameters of a religion’s identity, you are going down a slippery slope and opening the doors to anything and everything, such as Catholics for Krishna, Mormons for Mohammed, Baptists for Buddha.”

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